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Lyza Danger Gardner 10 February 2008

Lyza Danger Gardner

Introspective, Inquisitive and Surly: Portland Native Eschews the Humdrum

Ms. Gardner learned to read when she was three. “I tend to bring this up too much,” she explains. “It’s especially condescending when I refer to it in the context of others’ parenting skills. As in: ‘Why isn’t YOUR child reading? She appears to be almost FIVE.”

This self-aware awkwardness informs many of her interactions, both social and professional. Ms. Gardner tends to know what people are feeling, but is unclear on how to act upon that knowledge. It is, as she puts it, “an ironic bummer.”

Lyza’s professional life started in the early 1990s when her mother, at the time the staff reporter on personal technology for the Oregonian, illustrated the feasibility of the Internet by showing her the nascent Smirnoff Vodka Web site in the Mosaic browser. After that, says Gardner, “it was on.”

The next several months involved “View Source…”, alt.taco.bell and a spirited, drawn-out email exchange with a Briton about Aston-Martins. In 1997, a posting through Portland State University’s career services landed Ms. Gardner an interview with the youthful Kavi Corporation. She showed up for the interview in a plaid, schoolgirl-style miniskirt. I am not making this up. The beneficent Kavi founders were kind enough to hire her anyway. She was still a teenager.

Despite early professional promise and a raging social life, Ms. Gardner suffered from what her mother complained of as a “lack of gumption to go to a real school.” After seven years at PSU (here Ms. Gardner interrupts me to remind me that she started college at 15, so seven years is not that bad), she graduated in 2000. It rained. In contrast, her sister graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law.

In an effort to break the shackles of provinciality, Ms. Gardner decided to go to graduate school in England, which just cemented her directive of never living anywhere else but Portland. “But,” she says, “a lot of strange, magical and dreadful things happened. It was worth it, metaphorically.”

Gardner idolizes a midwestern computer engineer named David Hoenig. She insists the love story involved is far too grand, melancholy and (ultimately) triumphant for this article. The two were married in 2005.

What are you up to?

Gearing up psychologically to face surgery for a tumor near my appendix later this month.After a decade with Kavi–interrupted by a short (but surprisingly successful) stint at Intel–I joined three colleagues in the fall of 2007 and founded Cloud Four, a Web and mobile development firm, serving as the company’s Director of Creative Technology.

“It’s likely not cancer” — anonymous gastroenterologist

What are you into?

I am into experience: tactile, internal or explorative.

My primary, native impulse is to consume information, generally in printed words. I read enough that it is almost like a second avocation; my library is burgeoning and encroaching on the rest of our living space. Bookcases. They’re sexy. Literature, classical works, history, mostly.

Secondarily, I consume things that can be eaten or drunk. I’m an oenophile, something I picked up right when I reached my majority and decided I wanted a personal aspect that didn’t decry my youth. Plus it involved reading and, well, see number one. I’ve done freelance writing and photography about wine in the past. And then there’s food. I’m on a duck kick right now.

Thirdly, personal expression. I mentioned the photography, but my lack of any gearhead interests plagues this. I’m constantly out of film and my camera is (shockingly) over a decade old. I had a DSLR for a while but I couldn’t get into it. I am in the middle, well, the early, early, middle, of fixing up an old table-top letterpress. I think I would have been an artist, but I can’t draw. Fundamentally. Poor fine motor skills.

Randomly: Cartography, the Oregon high desert, grammar, Aveda products, my Audi TT, Macintoshes, alcohol.

What do you like most about Portland?

I was born on Northwest 23rd Avenue and have not lived more than ten miles distant since, save for that ill-advised, curious period involving Europe and graduate study.

For that reason, the “Portland is Awesome” movement sometimes strikes me as a noisome fad, because I’ve been on THAT bus for a vastly long time. I think I started noticing that I was bordering on obsession when I moved to England, though its roots in me are infinite.

When I lived in England, I papered my walls with maps of Portland and read books about Portland and talked a lot about Portland. People HERE would call me THERE to ask for directions to something HERE. I’m that kind of reference book on legs.

My credit card had a photo on it I took of the Portland skyline. I showed it to people in England and they were impressed, but I could never determine if they were impacted by the twilit glory of Stumptown’s profile (Mt. Hood alpenglowed in the background) or just jealous that I could get US Bank to let me put an arbitrary photo on a credit card.

What I’m getting at here: Any city that you can suffer homesickness for as acutely as you would for your mother or husband is an exceptional place.

Creative Technology Director. Err. What is it that you do…exactly?

Explanation by example: In the following question I give the triangulated distance between here and Riga, Latvia. To figure this out, I referenced a WordPress plugin I wrote about a month ago for a customer that calculates distances between US and Canadian postal codes, based on coordinate triangulation. Wrote a quick bit o’ scripty to get the number above.

But be not convinced: I don’t always do things the harder way. Before turning to my own knowledge, I tried asking Google Maps, but:

“We could not calculate driving directions between portland, oregon and riga, latvia.”

Anyway, I make Web things work, often creatively, and I try to make the things that work pleasant to work with and not unattractive.

What skill gives you the most satisfaction?

Getting to where I said I’m going to get to in a competent, well-navigated, and timely matter.

For example: I am wrenchingly, acutely, viscerally and so far incurably afraid of flying. But I wanted to go to graduate school in Europe (we’ll stay on that theme).

I got as far as Riga, Latvia (that’s a Baltic republic) without flying, before circling back again and heading to England. I faced a gaggle of naysayers. But I always get to where I say I’m going to get.

I took the train from Portland to Chicago, then to New York. I took a boat from New York to England. I took the chunnel to the continent [insert a few months of general dithering about on the continent]. I took boats and buses and cars and trains, ultimately getting as far east as Riga, which is 5107 miles from here as the crow flies–over the pole–and a hell of a lot further by ground travel.

But even then the indignant disbelief. It was Sunday. I needed to be in England to commence study by the following Friday. I was in Lithuania. An old Scottish pensioner in my  hostel: “You’ll no’ make it. Better go to Krakow [instead]!” I got to England, of course, on Friday morning, on the Eurostar from Brussels. It’s how I roll. I get there.

I’ve crossed the US and Canada by car 11 times, most recently last April. I can usually give my arrival time within a 2-hour window. Just ask my friends who met me at the southern tip of the Baja peninsula. I got to the airport in Los Cabos–having driven from here–within 20 minutes of their flight’s arrival.

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